Many questions keep coming up in Edmonton over the fans who have thrown their Edmonton Oilers jerseys on the ice this year, out of frustration of the brutal on-ice product that has been iced by years of hapless coaching and management.
Who would throw away $200 like that?
Is it disrespectful to those who have worn the uniform before (as per Ben Scrivens)?
Do fans have the right to do this, as a method of protest?
Will it start something bigger?
Are these fans true Oiler fans, or are they giving up? Shouldn’t a true fan stick with their team through the good and bad?
The events of the jerseys thrown to the ice over the course of the year have created a surprising amount of controversy in the city. The first incident caused head coach Dallas Eakins to begin a tirade against a fan that has given up, and the latest incident, in the midst of getting pumped 8-1 by the equally lowly, and rival Calgary Flames, caused new goalie Ben Scrivens to tell the fans that they are being disrespectful to the players who once wore the emblem with pride.
What do I make of this whole controversy?
Fans pay a lot of money to go see the Oilers. Ticket prices are astronomical, parking is pricey and inconvenient, beers, souvenirs, and food is overpriced, and of poor quality. Yet, the Oilers continue to sell out all of their home games, despite being a terrible team over the past seven years. They haven’t had a sniff of the playoffs since their fluke run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. They tied a league record with three-straight #1 overall draft picks, and still haven’t got any better. They recently lost home games to the 30th place team in the league, the Buffalo Sabres (3-1), and then got whipped by their provincial rivals 8-1 last night. The Flames are 26th in the league, and are in full rebuild mode, but have been praised as a team that will go out and play hard on every single night, even if there is little chance of them winning.
The same cannot be said about the Oilers. Much has been made over their general lack of effort, and at times, their appearance of disinterest during the games. People have a thousand theories as to why they are like this, from poor coaching, to spoiled young stars, to too much partying on Whyte Avenue on and before game nights. The amount of stories that people have of seeing Taylor Hall falling over drunk in a bar the night before a game is endless. Or the tales of the team partying like they won the Cup after one of their rare victories, so much so that the coach briefly started scheduling practices at 8 AM the day after a win. Who knows if these stories are true, but we can assume that they come from somewhere. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
For whatever the reason, the team is a debacle, and a joke.
True fans are supposed to stay loyal to their team, no matter what. But with so much losing, for so many years, the fans are fed up. Many people will say that their true voices are with their wallets, and that if they don’t want to support their team, they should stop going to games. This is true. But there are a couple of problems: there isn’t a lot to do in Edmonton in the winter, so going to games is supposed to be something fun; it has come to the point where people cannot give their tickets away, the ones that they bought in the off-season, when the promises of this being the year of a turn around are still fresh. The number of Facebook posts that I see that are giving away tickets, or selling them at face value, or at a severely reduced cost, is crazy. And most of the time, there are no responses to the posts. People do not want to pay to see this team. This is too bad for the season ticket holders (the Tier 1 fans, as per Kevin Lowe), since they have already paid for their tickets. They are stuck with them. The fans have stuck around this team, paying to see a product that is inferior. They have paid, and paid, and paid, and now people are blaming them because they expect some kind of reward for their loyalty. They have been patient with this never-ending rebuild, but moreso, they have been patient with the incompetence of a team that went years before admitting that they even needed a rebuild. Things should have been rebuilt by now.
The fan who throws away an expensive jersey is the fan that has had enough. It is a fan that does not want to disrespect the jersey and logo worn by the greats that have passed through the city before. It is a fan that understands who is really disrespecting that logo: the players that skate on to the ice every night. They are the ones who make this team look bad, and they are the ones that are showing the logo no respect. By being uncaring, by playing weakly, by continually losing. The Oiler players need to look at themselves in the mirror, and realize that it is because of them, and their lack of pride, that fans are throwing jerseys on the ice, or throwing opposing team hats on the ice when a visitor gets a hat trick against them.
The Oilers are embarrassing themselves, the team they play for, and their league.
Fans have every right to say what they want to say about the players. If you are shelling out a few hundred bucks, a few times a year, you are entitled to your opinion. Call the radio shows, write letters, start Facebook groups. Boo the team. Throw your jersey on the ice. Sure, no home team wants to be booed in their own barn. So play better. We, the people of Edmonton, don’t even expect you to win that many games. But at least make it look like you are trying, and that you care.
I hope that this becomes a bigger thing. I want to see Oiler memorabilia raining down from the seats of Rexall Place, to show that the fans really have had enough. I want people to boycott the buying of merchandise from the team, because they don’t deserve it. If the team does not treat its fans with respect, why should the fans treat the team with respect? They know that they are going to be making money, no matter what, if only because of the thousands of seasons tickets that have already been sold. Owner Darryl Katz has no reason to ice a competitive team. Where is the bonus for him? He has one of the most profitable teams in the league, because the fans have been so loyal. So, calling them disloyal will only incite their vitriol even more. And rightfully so.
The Edmonton Oilers are an absolute mess, and will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight year this season. The future remains bleak, due to an empty corps on defense, where there is barely an NHL-caliber defenseman to be found. We could argue that there are a couple of decent D prospects coming up, but if they are used properly, and allowed to mature, instead of being thrown into the fire, they are still a few years away from being truly effective.
Keep throwing your jerseys, if you want to.
And Edmonton, let’s forget about the Oilers. Put your money into seeing quality sports franchises, like the Edmonton Oil Kings, who are in the playoffs and looking strong yet again, and the Edmonton Rush, who are dominating in the National Lacrosse League this year. There are winners in this town, they just don’t wear blue and orange. And hopefully, fewer fans will be sporting those colours as well.